bims-ecemfi Biomed News
on ECM and fibroblasts
Issue of 2024‒04‒14
thirteen papers selected by
Badri Narayanan Narasimhan, University of California, San Diego

  1. Clin Transl Oncol. 2024 Apr 11.
      The journey of cancer development is a multifaceted and staged process. The array of treatments available for cancer varies significantly, dictated by the disease's type and stage. Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), prevalent across various cancer types and stages, play a pivotal role in tumor genesis, progression, metastasis, and drug resistance. The strategy of concurrently targeting cancer cells and CAFs holds great promise in cancer therapy. In this review, we focus intently on CAFs, delving into their critical role in cancer's progression. We begin by exploring the origins, classification, and surface markers of CAFs. Following this, we emphasize the key cytokines and signaling pathways involved in the interplay between cancer cells and CAFs and their influence on the tumor immune microenvironment. Additionally, we examine current therapeutic approaches targeting CAFs. This article underscores the multifarious roles of CAFs within the tumor microenvironment and their potential applications in cancer treatment, highlighting their importance as key targets in overcoming drug resistance and enhancing the efficacy of tumor therapies.
    Keywords:  Cancer treatment; Cancer-associated fibroblasts; Drug resistance; Tumor immune microenvironment; Tumor microenvironment
  2. Cells. 2024 Mar 22. pii: 560. [Epub ahead of print]13(7):
      Cervical cancer (CC) is the fourth leading cancer among women and is one of the principal gynecological malignancies. In the tumor microenvironment, cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) play a crucial role during malignant progression, exhibiting a variety of heterogeneous phenotypes. CAFs express phenotypic markers like fibroblast activation protein (FAP), vimentin, S100A4, α-smooth muscle actin (αSMA), and functional markers such as MMP9. This study aimed to evaluate the protein expression of vimentin, S100A4, αSMA, FAP, and MMP9 in mesenchymal stem cells (MSC)-CAF cells, as well as in cervical cancer samples. MSC cells were stimulated with HeLa and SiHa tumor cell supernatants, followed by protein evaluation and cytokine profile to confirm differentiation towards a CAF phenotype. In addition, automated immunohistochemistry (IHQa) was performed to evaluate the expression of these proteins in CC samples at different stages. Our findings revealed a high expression of FAP in stimulated MSC cells, accompanied by the secretion of pro/anti-inflammatory cytokines. In the other hand, CC samples were observed to have high expression of FAP, vimentin, αSMA, and MMP9. Most importantly, there was a high expression of their activation proteins αSMA and FAP during the different stages. In the early stages, a myofibroblast-like phenotype (CAFs αSMA+ FAP+), and in the late stages a protumoral phenotype (CAF αSMA- FAP+). In summary, FAP has a crucial role in the activation of CAFs during cervical cancer progression.
    Keywords:  cancer-associated fibroblasts; cervical cancer; fibroblast activation protein; heterogeneous phenotypes; mesenquimal stem cells
  3. Soft Matter. 2024 Apr 08.
      A breast-cancer tumor develops within a stroma, a tissue where a complex extracellular matrix surrounds cells, mediating the cancer progression through biomechanical and -chemical cues. Current materials partially mimic the stromal matrix in 3D cell cultures but methods for measuring the mechanical properties of the matrix at cell-relevant-length scales and stromal-stiffness levels are lacking. Here, to address this gap, we developed a characterization approach that employs probe-based microrheometry and Bayesian modeling to quantify length-scale-dependent mechanics and mechanical heterogeneity as in the stromal matrix. We examined the interpenetrating network (IPN) composed of alginate scaffolds (for adjusting mechanics) and type-1 collagen (a stromal-matrix constituent). We analyzed viscoelasticity: absolute-shear moduli (stiffness/elasticity) and phase angles (viscous and elastic characteristics). We determined the relationship between microrheometry and rheometry information. Microrheometry reveals lower stiffness at cell-relevant scales, compared to macroscale rheometry, with dependency on the length scale (10 to 100 μm). These data show increasing IPN stiffness with crosslinking until saturation (≃15 mM of Ca2+). Furthermore, we report that IPN stiffness can be adjusted by modulating collagen concentration and interconnectivity (by polymerization temperature). The IPNs are heterogeneous structurally (in SEM) and mechanically. Interestingly, increased alginate crosslinking changes IPN heterogeneity in stiffness but not in phase angle, until the saturation. In contrast, such changes are undetectable in alginate scaffolds. Our nonlinear viscoelasticity analysis at tumor-cell-exerted strains shows that only the softer IPNs stiffen with strain, like the stromal-collagen constituent. In summary, our approach can quantify the stromal-matrix-related viscoelasticity and is likely applicable to other materials in 3D culture.
  4. bioRxiv. 2024 Mar 28. pii: 2024.03.26.586706. [Epub ahead of print]
      As local regions in the tumor outstrip their oxygen supply, hypoxia can develop, affecting not only the cancer cells, but also other cells in the microenvironment, including cancer associated fibroblasts (CAFs). Hypoxia is also not necessarily stable over time, and can fluctuate or oscillate. Hypoxia Inducible Factor-1 is the master regulator of cellular response to hypoxia, and can also exhibit oscillations in its activity. To understand how stable, and fluctuating hypoxia influence breast CAFs, we measured changes in gene expression in CAFs in normoxia, hypoxia, and oscillatory hypoxia, as well as measured change in their capacity to resist, or assist breast cancer invasion. We show that hypoxia has a profound effect on breast CAFs causing activation of key pathways associated with fibroblast activation, but reduce myofibroblast activation and traction force generation. We also found that oscillatory hypoxia, while expectedly resulted in a "sub-hypoxic" response in gene expression, it resulted in specific activation of pathways associated with actin polymerization and actomyosin maturation. Using traction force microscopy, and a nanopatterned stromal invasion assay, we show that oscillatory hypoxia increases contractile force generation vs stable hypoxia, and increases heterogeneity in force generation response, while also additively enhancing invasibility of CAFs to MDA-MB-231 invasion. Our data show that stable and unstable hypoxia can regulate many mechnobiological characteristics of CAFs, and can contribute to transformation of CAFs to assist cancer dissemination and onset of metastasis.
  5. Cells Tissues Organs. 2024 Apr 10.
      BACKGROUND: Marrow stimulation is a common reparative approach to treat injuries to cartilage and other soft tissues (e.g., rotator cuff). It involves the recruitment of bone marrow elements and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into the defect, theoretically initiating a regenerative process. However, the resulting repair tissue is often weak and susceptible to deterioration with time. The populations of cells at the marrow stimulation site (beyond MSCs), and their contribution to inflammation, vascularity, and fibrosis, may play a role in quality of the repair tissue.SUMMARY: In this review, we accomplish three goals: 1) systematically review clinical trials on the augmentation of marrow stimulation and evaluate their assumptions on the biological elements recruited; 2) detail the cellular populations in bone marrow and their impact on healing; and 3) highlight emerging technologies and approaches that could better guide these specific cell populations towards enhanced cartilage or soft tissue formation.
    KEY MESSAGES: We found that most clinical trials do not account for cell heterogeneity, nor do they specify the regenerative element recruited, and those that do typically utilize descriptions such as "clots", "elements", and "blood". Furthermore, our review of bone marrow cell populations demonstrates a dramatically heterogenous cell population, including hematopoietic cells, immune cells, fibroblasts, macrophages, and only a small population of MSCs. Finally, the field has developed numerous innovative techniques to enhance the chondrogenic potential (and reduce the anti-regenerative impacts) of these various cell types. We hope this review will guide approaches that account for cellular heterogeneity and improve marrow stimulation techniques to treat chondral defects.
  6. Oncogene. 2024 Apr 12.
      Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an exceptionally aggressive subtype of breast cancer. Despite the recognized interplay between tumors and tumor-associated macrophages in fostering drug resistance and disease progression, the precise mechanisms leading these interactions remain elusive. Our study revealed that the upregulation of collagen type V alpha 1 (COL5A1) in TNBC tissues, particularly in chemoresistant samples, was closely linked to an unfavorable prognosis. Functional assays unequivocally demonstrated that COL5A1 played a pivotal role in fueling cancer growth, metastasis, and resistance to doxorubicin, both in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, we found that the cytokine IL-6, produced by COL5A1-overexpressing TNBC cells actively promoted M2 macrophage polarization. In turn, TGFβ from M2 macrophages drived TNBC doxorubicin resistance through the TGFβ/Smad3/COL5A1 signaling pathway, establishing a feedback loop between TNBC cells and macrophages. Mechanistically, COL5A1 interacted with TGM2, inhibiting its K48-linked ubiquitination-mediated degradation, thereby enhancing chemoresistance and increasing IL-6 secretion. In summary, our findings underscored the significant contribution of COL5A1 upregulation to TNBC progression and chemoresistance, highlighting its potential as a diagnostic and therapeutic biomarker for TNBC.
  7. bioRxiv. 2024 Mar 28. pii: 2024.03.27.586980. [Epub ahead of print]
      Immune cell-mediated killing of cancer cells in a solid tumor is prefaced by a multi-step infiltration cascade of invasion, directed migration, and cytotoxic activities. In particular, immune cells must invade and migrate through a series of different extracellular matrix (ECM) boundaries and domains before reaching and killing their target tumor cells. These infiltration events are a central challenge to the clinical success of CAR T cells against solid tumors. The current standard in vitro cell killing assays measure cell cytotoxicity in an obstacle-free, two-dimensional (2D) microenvironment, which precludes the study of 3D immune cell-ECM interactions. Here, we present a 3D combined infiltration/cytotoxicity assay based on an oil-in-water microtechnology. This assay measures stromal invasion following extravasation, migration through the stromal matrix, and invasion of the solid tumor in addition to cell killing. We compare this 3D cytotoxicity assay to the benchmark 2D assay through tumor assembloid cocultures with immune cells and engineered immune cells. This assay is amenable to an array of imaging techniques, which allows direct observation and quantification of each stage of infiltration in different immune and oncological contexts. We establish the 3D infiltration/cytotoxicity assay as an important tool for the mechanistic study of immune cell interactions with the tumor microenvironment.
  8. Adv Healthc Mater. 2024 Apr 06. e2304144
      Adoptive cell therapies are dramatically altering the treatment landscape of cancer. However, treatment of solid tumors remains a major unmet need, in part due to limited adoptive cell infiltration into the tumor and in part due to the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment. The heterogeneity of tumors and presence of non-responders also calls for development of antigen-independent therapeutic approaches. Myeloid cells offer such an opportunity, given their large presence in the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment, such as in triple negative breast cancer. However, their therapeutic utility is hindered by their phenotypic plasticity. Here, we leverage the impressive trafficking ability of adoptively transferred monocytes into the immunosuppressive 4T1 tumor to develop an anti-tumor therapy. To control monocyte differentiation in the tumor microenvironment, we developed surface-adherent "backpacks" stably modified with IFNγ to stimulate macrophage plasticity into a pro-inflammatory, anti-tumor phenotype, a strategy we refer to as Ornate Polymer-backpacks on Tissue Infiltrating Monocytes (OPTIMs). Treatment with OPTIMs substantially reduced tumor burden in a mouse 4T1 model and significant increased survival. Cytokine and immune cell profiling revealed that OPTIMs remodeled the tumor microenvironment into a pro-inflammatory state. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    Keywords:  Cell therapy; cancer; immunotherapy; microparticles; monocytes
  9. Am J Cancer Res. 2024 ;14(3): 1015-1032
      The ERK1/2 pathway is involved in epithelial-mesenchymal transformation and cell cycle of tumor cells in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In the present study, we investigated the involvement of ERK1/2 activation on hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). We identified ERK1/2 phosphorylation in activated HSCs of HCC samples. We found that tumor cells promoted the migration and invasion capacity of HSCs by activating ERK1/2 phosphorylation. Using high throughput transcriptome sequencing analysis, we found that ERK1/2 inhibition altered genes significantly correlated to signaling pathways involved in extracellular matrix remodeling. We screened genes and demonstrated that the ERK1/2 inhibition-related gene set significantly correlated to cancer-associated fibroblast infiltration in TCGA HCC tumor samples. Moreover, inhibition of ERK1/2 suppressed tumor cell-induced enhancement of HSC migration and invasion by regulating expression of fibrosis markers FAP, FN1 and COL1A1. In a tumor cell and HSC splenic co-transplanted xenograft mouse model, inhibition of ERK1/2 suppressed liver tumor formation by downregulating fibrosis, indicating ERK1/2 inhibition suppresses tumor-stromal interactions in vivo. Taken together, our data indicate that inhibition of ERK1/2 in tumor-associated HSCs suppresses tumor-stromal interactions and progression. Furthermore, inhibition of ERK1/2 may be a potential target for HCC treatment.
    Keywords:  ERK1/2; extracellular matrix; hepatic stellate cell; hepatocellular carcinoma; tumor microenvironment
  10. ArXiv. 2024 Mar 25. pii: arXiv:2403.16784v1. [Epub ahead of print]
      Tumor spheroids are in vitro three-dimensional, cellular collectives consisting of cancerous cells. Embedding these spheroids in an in vitro fibrous environment, such as a collagen network, to mimic the extracellular matrix (ECM) provides an essential platform to quantitatively investigate the biophysical mechanisms leading to tumor invasion of the ECM. To understand the mechanical interplay between tumor spheroids and the ECM, we computationally construct and study a three-dimensional vertex model for a tumor spheroid that is mechanically coupled to a cross-linked network of fibers. In such a vertex model, cells are represented as deformable polyhedrons that share faces. Some fraction of the boundary faces of the tumor spheroid contain linker springs connecting the center of the boundary face to the nearest node in the fiber network. As these linker springs actively contract, the fiber network remodels. By toggling between fluid-like and solid-like spheroids via changing the dimensionless cell shape index, we find that the spheroid rheology affects the remodeling of the fiber network. More precisely, fluid-like spheroids displace the fiber network more on average near the vicinity of the spheroid than solid-like spheroids. We also find more densification of the fiber network near the spheroid for the fluid-like spheroids. These spheroid rheology-dependent effects are the result of cellular motility due to active cellular rearrangements that emerge over time in the fluid-like spheroids to generate spheroid shape fluctuations. Our results uncover intricate morphological-mechanical interplay between an embedded spheroid and its surrounding fiber network with both spheroid contractile strength and spheroid shape fluctuations playing important roles in the pre-invasion stages of tumor invasion.
  11. Biophys J. 2024 Apr 10. pii: S0006-3495(24)00252-2. [Epub ahead of print]
      Controlling mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) differentiation remains a critical challenge in their therapeutic application. Numerous biophysical and mechanical stimuli influence stem cell fate, however, their relative efficacy and specificity in mechanically directed differentiation remain unclear. Yes-associated protein (YAP) is one key mechanosensitive protein that controls MSC differentiation. Previous studies have related nuclear mechanics with YAP activity, but we still lack an understanding of what nuclear deformation specifically regulates YAP, and its relationship with mechanical stimuli. Here we report that maximum nuclear curvature is the most precise biophysical determinant for YAP mechanotransduction mediated MSC differentiation, and is a relevant parameter for stem cell-based therapies. We employed traction force microscopy and confocal microscopy to characterize the causal relationships between contractility and nuclear deformation in regulating YAP activity in MSCs. We observed that an increase in contractility compresses nuclei anisotropically, where the degree of asymmetric compression increased the bending curvature of the nuclear membrane. We then examined membrane curvature and tension using thin micropatterned adhesive substrate lines and a FRET-based tension sensor, revealing the direct role of curvature in YAP activity driven by both active and passive nuclear import. Finally, we employed micropatterned lines to control nuclear curvature and precisely direct MSC differentiation. This work illustrates that nuclear curvature subsumes other biophysical aspects to control YAP-mediated differentiation in MSCs and may provide a deterministic solution to some of the challenges in mesenchymal stem cell therapies.
  12. Nat Comput Sci. 2024 Apr 09.
      The three-dimensional (3D) organization of cells determines tissue function and integrity, and changes markedly in development and disease. Cell-based simulations have long been used to define the underlying mechanical principles. However, high computational costs have so far limited simulations to either simplified cell geometries or small tissue patches. Here, we present SimuCell3D, an efficient open-source program to simulate large tissues in three dimensions with subcellular resolution, growth, proliferation, extracellular matrix, fluid cavities, nuclei and non-uniform mechanical properties, as found in polarized epithelia. Spheroids, vesicles, sheets, tubes and other tissue geometries can readily be imported from microscopy images and simulated to infer biomechanical parameters. Doing so, we show that 3D cell shapes in layered and pseudostratified epithelia are largely governed by a competition between surface tension and intercellular adhesion. SimuCell3D enables the large-scale in silico study of 3D tissue organization in development and disease at a great level of detail.
  13. Curr Protoc. 2024 Apr;4(4): e1025
      Cardiac fibroblasts (CF) are an essential cell type in cardiac physiology, playing diverse roles in maintaining structural integrity, extracellular matrix (ECM) synthesis, and tissue repair. Under normal conditions, these cells reside in the interstitium in a quiescent state poised to sense and respond to injury by synthesizing and secreting collagen, vimentin, hyaluronan, and other ECM components. In response to mechanical and chemical stimuli, these "resident" fibroblasts can undergo a transformation through a continuum of activation states into what is commonly known as a "myofibroblast," in a process critical for injury response. Despite progress in understanding the contribution of fibroblasts to cardiac health and disease, much remains unknown about the signaling mediating this activation, in part owing to technical challenges in evaluating CF function and activation status in vitro. Given their role in monitoring the ECM, CFs are acutely sensitive to stiffness and pressure. High basal activation of isolated CFs is common due to the super-physiologic stiffness of traditional cell culture substrates, making assays dependent on quiescent cells challenging. To overcome this problem, cell culture parameters must be tightly controlled, and the use of dishes coated with biocompatible reduced-stiffness substrates, such as 8-kPa polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), has shown promise in reducing basal activation of fibroblasts. Here, we describe cell culture protocol for maintaining CF quiescence in vitro to enable a dynamic range for the assessment of activation status in response to fibrogenic stimuli using PDMS-coated coverslips. Our protocol provides a cost-effective tool to study fibroblast signaling and activity, allowing researchers to better understand the underlying mechanisms involved in cardiac fibrosis. © 2024 The Authors. Current Protocols published by Wiley Periodicals LLC. Basic Protocol 1: Generation of 8-kPa polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS)/gelatin-coated coverslips for cardiac fibroblast cell culture Basic Protocol 2: Isolation of adult cardiac fibroblasts and plating onto PDMS coverslips Basic Protocol 3: Assessment of cardiac fibroblast activation by α smooth muscle actin (αSMA) immunocytochemistry.
    Keywords:  PDMS; TGFβ; activation; cardiac fibroblasts; cell culture; fibrosis; myofibroblast